Ring transfers

I've just become intrigued by the question of ring-transfers in a whole new way.
It is repeatedly said that nobody ever gave up a ring of power willingly, except Bilbo. This cannot be true:

1. The One Ring, yes, this appears to be the case
2. For the nine, we might presume this to be the case based on the nature of their power
3. For the seven, we might question whether this is true. As mortals, Dwarves must have possessed some means of passing them on. I thought may not have been done until death, but Appendix A says they were passed "near death" so some ability to give it up is implied. We also will hear Gandalf say the ring was given from one generation to another. We don't know how long Sauron's recall effort took for the other six, but for a ring to have gotten all the way to Thrain must have involved many transfers. This ring was given to Durin III by the elves personally, not by Sauron (Appendix A). It may thus have been free of the full taint of Sauron, although he helped make it.
4. For the three, it is demonstrably false. Only Nenya remained with its original holder. Gil-Galad and Cirdan both willingly passed on rings to other holders. Granted, the nature and power of these rings is different - yet they are among the "great rings." (This brings up a thought experiment for me. What was Lindon and the Havens like when Cirdan had a ring, and how did it change after he gave it to Gandalf?)

None of this is meant to diminish what Bilbo did. The One Ring's power over the bearer's psyche is enormous and his act was truly special. I just think we should be careful how we describe it - it is not true that nobody else ever gave a ring of power willingly.
 

Flammifer

Active Member
The Dwarven Ring, last possessed by Thrain, before Sauron reclaimed it, was given to Durin III (by the Elves, according to Dwarf lore).

So, it was passed from Durin III to Durin IV, from Durin IV to Durin V, from Durin V to Durin VI. Durin VI was slain by the Balrog. Rule passed to Nain I, who was also slain by the Balrog a year later. The Ring may have passed from Durin VI to Nain I, and thence to Thrain I. How it managed to pass through these unexpected deaths, is not clear. The Ring may have gone from Thrain I to Thorin I, thence to Dain I. Dain I was slain by a cold drake. So, once again, the Ring had to somehow pass to Thror despite an unexpected death. Thror gave the Ring to his heir, Thrain II, before he returned to Moria. Thrain II lost the Ring to Sauron in Dol Guldur.

So, this Dwarven Ring seems to have been transferred from Dwarf heir to Dwarf heir 9 times before it was lost to Sauron.

At least 3 of these transfers were possibly unexpected and unplanned, after the death of the bearer.

However, at least 6 seem to have been planned, orderly, and voluntary transfers, or posthumous bequests
 

Anthony Lawther

Active Member
It seems there are really only three in-story options here:
1. Gandalf was forgetting the Three and the Seven; (seems unlikely)
2. Gandalf was discounting the Three and the Seven; (seems more likely, but still hard to reconcile)
3. Gandalf didn't believe what he was saying. (Cue the howls of protest in defence of Gandalf's honesty)
The third seems most likely as we see evidence of Gandalf misleading, if not outright lying to people.

The out-of-story reason is that Tolkien missed this point, at least until he'd written this piece and didn't want to abandon it.

Unless I'm missing something...
 

Forodan

Member
I've just become intrigued by the question of ring-transfers in a whole new way.
It is repeatedly said that nobody ever gave up a ring of power willingly, except Bilbo. This cannot be true:
“A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to someone else’s care, and that only at an early stage, when it first begins to grip. But as far as I know Bilbo alone in history has ever gone beyond playing, and really done it. He needed all my help, too. And even so he would never have just forsaken it, or cast it aside. It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him.” -- from "The Shadow of the Past"

Note that Gandalf uses the word mortal frequently when talking to Frodo about Rings of Power in "The Shadow of the Past". He does not even mention the Three. Aside from the likelihood that Tolkien had not settled exactly how many Rings there were and what they were about when this was originally written, this is a 'need to know' level briefing for Frodo, not a full history of Rings of Power. Maybe that qualification mortal is what is missing from the statement about Bilbo being unique in giving up a Ring of Power willingly. Who but a mortal would need to even consider "passing on" a Ring? Gandalf would not be likely to be well informed on how any Dwarves were passing their Rings along. They may have simply been bequeathed to an heir. This does raise some interesting questions about whether others were aware of the Rings and whether some enormous effort would be made to recover a body of a fallen leader who was known to have one and died in combat. Dwarves are very secretive about many things, after all, and would surely be secretive about this as well. We are reading something in the appendices that is either from "omniscient narrative" point of view, or could only be explained by some Dwarven scholar being willing to share information long after the Rings were no longer of any importance, having lost their power. What little Gandalf claims to know in the story must be largely surmise.
 
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Forodan

Member
The Dwarven Ring, last possessed by Thrain, before Sauron reclaimed it, was given to Durin III (by the Elves, according to Dwarf lore).

So, it was passed from Durin III to Durin IV, from Durin IV to Durin V, from Durin V to Durin VI. Durin VI was slain by the Balrog. Rule passed to Nain I, who was also slain by the Balrog a year later. The Ring may have passed from Durin VI to Nain I, and thence to Thrain I. How it managed to pass through these unexpected deaths, is not clear. The Ring may have gone from Thrain I to Thorin I, thence to Dain I. Dain I was slain by a cold drake. So, once again, the Ring had to somehow pass to Thror despite an unexpected death. Thror gave the Ring to his heir, Thrain II, before he returned to Moria. Thrain II lost the Ring to Sauron in Dol Guldur.

So, this Dwarven Ring seems to have been transferred from Dwarf heir to Dwarf heir 9 times before it was lost to Sauron.

At least 3 of these transfers were possibly unexpected and unplanned, after the death of the bearer.

However, at least 6 seem to have been planned, orderly, and voluntary transfers, or posthumous bequests
There in bold is the ONE single instance where a Ring of Power seems to have been given up voluntarily. Again, there must be an omitted qualification. Maybe "mortal" isn't quite the right word since Dwarves are technically mortal. But if the qualification is 'human' then it still holds, because Hobbits are related to humans, but are not human. Pippin loudly denies being a "man" at the gates of Pelennor as he and Gandalf are headed into Minas Tirith to meet Denethor.
 
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A couple of follow-up thoughts - I don't have the text handy to look up locations, sadly.
I'm pretty sure the "Shadow of the Past" chapter isn't the only place Gandalf talks about Bilbo's gift as a singular event. Even in that chapter, when although he mentions mortals often, his statement is unequivocal. We also get evidence (somewhere) that he knew about the Dwarvish transfers, and the one that failed.
I can FULLY accept that this is just him saying stuff to prep Frodo; it wouldn't upset me at all to see him playing loose with facts in that purpose. The point of my original post was more for US. WE talk about it like it's a singular event in a way that is not fully supported by the text.
 

Anthony Lawther

Active Member
A couple of follow-up thoughts - I don't have the text handy to look up locations, sadly.
I'm pretty sure the "Shadow of the Past" chapter isn't the only place Gandalf talks about Bilbo's gift as a singular event. Even in that chapter, when although he mentions mortals often, his statement is unequivocal. We also get evidence (somewhere) that he knew about the Dwarvish transfers, and the one that failed.
I can FULLY accept that this is just him saying stuff to prep Frodo; it wouldn't upset me at all to see him playing loose with facts in that purpose. The point of my original post was more for US. WE talk about it like it's a singular event in a way that is not fully supported by the text.
Of course, resolution comes about by changing the article: 'a' Ring of Power to 'the' Ring of Power. It may also be true of the Nine, but we don't have evidence to say either way on that, and for the Three and the Seven there is evidence to gainsay the general statement.
 

Flammifer

Active Member
There are basically two possible explanations:

1. Gandalf is not being accurate: Either through ignorance or mental lapse (unlikely); Through exaggerating for effect on Frodo (possible).

2. A transcription or translation error has occurred. Perhaps the substitution of 'a' for 'the' preceding 'Ring of Power'. (Certainly possible over the millennia).

On Michael Dennis' point, that we (the readers) tend to give this statement more weight than it deserves, I agree. I think there is a general tendency when reading TLOTR to attribute more agency and consciousness to The Ring than is really supported by the evidence. This, of course, is prompted early on by some of Gandalf's other comments in 'The Shadow of the Past'. However, my speculation is that as we go on through the book, we will find that the Ring has very limited agency. Passages where the Ring seems to have agency, will have other possible readings. Passages where the Ring seems inert when a conscious Ring should be more active are perhaps even more telling.
 
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